'It looks like a case-bottle;' remarked Ben Allen, eyeing the object in question through his spectacles with some interest; 'I rather think it belongs to Bob.'
The impression was perfectly accurate; for Mr. Bob Sawyer, having attached the case-bottle to the end of the walking-stick, was battering the window with it, in token of his wish, that his friends inside would partake of its contents, in all good-fellowship and harmony.
'What's to be done?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking at the bottle. 'This proceeding is more absurd than the other.'
'I think it would be best to take it in,' replied Mr. Ben Allen; 'it would serve him right to take it in and keep it, wouldn't it?'
'It would,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'shall I?'
'I think it the most proper course we could possibly adopt,' replied Ben.
This advice quite coinciding with his own opinion, Mr. Pickwick gently let down the window and disengaged the bottle from the stick; upon which the latter was drawn up, and Mr. Bob Sawyer was heard to laugh heartily.
'What a merry dog it is!' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round at his companion, with the bottle in his hand.
'He is,' said Mr. Allen.
'You cannot possibly be angry with him,' remarked Mr. Pickwick.
'Quite out of the question,' observed Benjamin Allen.
During this short interchange of sentiments, Mr. Pickwick had, in an abstracted mood, uncorked the bottle.
'What is it?' inquired Ben Allen carelessly.
'I don't know,' replied Mr. Pickwick, with equal carelessness. 'It smells, I think, like milk-punch.' 'Oh, indeed?' said Ben.
'I THINK so,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick, very properly guarding himself against the possibility of stating an untruth; 'mind, I could not undertake to say certainly, without tasting it.'
'You had better do so,' said Ben; 'we may as well know what it is.'
'Do you think so?' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Well; if you are curious to know, of course I have no objection.'
Ever willing to sacrifice his own feelings to the wishes of his friend, Mr. Pickwick at once took a pretty long taste.
'What is it?' inquired Ben Allen, interrupting him with some impatience.
'Curious,' said Mr. Pickwick, smacking his lips, 'I hardly know, now. Oh, yes!' said Mr. Pickwick, after a second taste. 'It IS punch.'
Mr. Ben Allen looked at Mr. Pickwick; Mr. Pickwick looked at Mr. Ben Allen; Mr. Ben Allen smiled; Mr. Pickwick did not.
'It would serve him right,' said the last-named gentleman, with some severity — 'it would serve him right to drink it every drop.'
'The very thing that occurred to me,' said Ben Allen.
'Is it, indeed?' rejoined Mr. Pickwick. 'Then here's his health!' With these words, that excellent person took a most energetic pull at the bottle, and handed it to Ben Allen, who was not slow to imitate his example. The smiles became mutual, and the milk-punch was gradually and cheerfully disposed of.
'After all,' said Mr. Pickwick, as he drained the last drop, 'his pranks are really very amusing; very entertaining indeed.'
'You may say that,' rejoined Mr. Ben Allen. In proof of Bob Sawyer's being one of the funniest fellows alive, he proceeded to entertain Mr. Pickwick with a long and circumstantial account how that gentleman once drank himself into a fever and got his head shaved; the relation of which pleasant and agreeable history was only stopped by the stoppage of the chaise at the Bell at Berkeley Heath, to change horses.
'I say! We're going to dine here, aren't we?' said Bob, looking in at the window.
'Dine!' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Why, we have only come nineteen miles, and have eighty-seven and a half to go.'
'Just the reason why we should take something to enable us to bear up against the fatigue,' remonstrated Mr. Bob Sawyer.
'Oh, it's quite impossible to dine at half-past eleven o'clock in the day,' replied Mr. Pickwick, looking at his watch.
'So it is,' rejoined Bob, 'lunch is the very thing. Hollo, you sir! Lunch for three, directly; and keep the horses back for a quarter of an hour. Tell them to put everything they have cold, on the table, and some bottled ale, and let us taste your very best Madeira.' Issuing these orders with monstrous importance and bustle, Mr. Bob Sawyer at once hurried into the house to superintend the arrangements; in less than five minutes he returned and declared them to be excellent.
The quality of the lunch fully justified the eulogium which Bob had pronounced, and very great justice was done to it, not only by that gentleman, but Mr. Ben Allen and Mr. Pickwick also. Under the auspices of the three, the bottled ale and the Madeira were promptly disposed of; and when (the horses being once more put to) they resumed their seats, with the case-bottle full of the best substitute for milk-punch that could be procured on so short a notice, the key-bugle sounded, and the red flag waved, without the slightest opposition on Mr. Pickwick's part.
At the Hop Pole at Tewkesbury, they stopped to dine; upon which occasion there was more bottled ale, with some more Madeira, and some port besides; and here the case-bottle was replenished for the fourth time. Under the influence of these combined stimulants, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Ben Allen fell fast asleep for thirty miles, while Bob and Mr. Weller sang duets in the dickey.
It was quite dark when Mr. Pickwick roused himself sufficiently to look out of the window. The straggling cottages by the road-side, the dingy hue of every object visible, the murky atmosphere, the paths of cinders and brick-dust, the deep-red glow of furnace fires in the distance, the volumes of dense smoke issuing heavily forth from high toppling chimneys, blackening and obscuring everything around; the glare of distant lights, the ponderous wagons which toiled along the road, laden with clashing rods of iron, or piled with heavy goods — all betokened their rapid approach to the great working town of Birmingham.
As they rattled through the narrow thoroughfares leading to the heart of the turmoil, the sights and sounds of earnest occupation struck more forcibly on the senses. The streets were thronged with working people. The hum of labour resounded from every house; lights gleamed from the long casement windows in the attic storeys, and the whirl of wheels and noise of machinery shook the trembling walls. The fires, whose lurid, sullen light had been visible for miles, blazed fiercely up, in the great works and factories of the town. The din of hammers, the rushing of steam, and the dead heavy clanking of engines, was the harsh music which arose from every quarter. The postboy was driving briskly through the open streets, and past the handsome and well-lighted shops that intervene between the outskirts of the town and the Old Royal Hotel, before Mr. Pickwick had begun to consider the very difficult and delicate nature of the commission which had carried him thither.
The delicate nature of this commission, and the difficulty of executing it in a satisfactory manner, were by no means lessened by the voluntary companionship of Mr. Bob Sawyer. Truth to tell, Mr. Pickwick felt that his presence on the occasion, however considerate and gratifying, was by no means an honour he would willingly have sought; in fact, he would cheerfully have given a reasonable sum of money to have had Mr. Bob Sawyer removed to any place at not less than fifty miles' distance, without delay.